No, pride.com, Tulane is not one of the ‘Best Colleges for Queer Women’

Emilie Redmann, Contributing Writer

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On Sept. 5, Pride.com, an affiliate of Pride Media Network, published a list of  “11 of the Best Colleges for Queer Women” with Tulane University appearing first. 

Ellen Wall from Pride.com cited Tulane’s Office for Gender and Sexual Diversity, a Gender and Sexuality Studies major and minor, gender-inclusive housing options and similar institutional initiatives to help LGBT students as reasoning for gracing Tulane with this noteworthy title. 

Many students received the article as a triumph. They shared Facebook posts donning a stream of rainbow heart emojis in their captions or statements about how proud the students were to attend such an accepting and welcoming school. 

As I was scrolling through these posts, however, one in particular caught my eye. It was lengthier than the other posts, making statements like, “While Tulane does have resources for LGBTQIA+ folks, I would’ve loved for them to include actual queer experiences on campus …” and “My truth is that I’m scared to be who I am and love who I love on Tulane’s campus.”

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Sarah Jane Robertson, the Tulane senior who wrote the heated post, discussed her motivations behind sharing these strong statements. “The second I saw Tulane [on the list] I was like, ‘That’s bullshit,’” she said, sitting on the edge of her seat. 

When I asked her what caused her gut reaction to the piece, she told me the story of how, during her sophomore year, she was harassed in The Boot for kissing another woman.

“People who weren’t my friends, people who I had no idea who they were, started taking flash videos of us, which is just a total invasion of privacy,” Robertson said.

The harassment continued, from another person asking to “join” them to a cup of ice being thrown at them, until the two women eventually decided to leave. 

“Since then I’ve not been with, like made out or held hands or done anything like that, with a woman on campus just because I don’t feel comfortable,” Robertson explained.

Re-reading the article after hearing about Robertson’s experience put the ranking into an even more disturbing perspective. How could a school that claims to have a “reputation for acceptance and support” allow this to happen? 

“It seemed like it was a list of checkboxes of, ‘Do they have a GSA? Do they have an office for queer people?’ and if they did, it was like, ‘Oh, then they’re allowed to be on this list,’” Robertson said. “I’m sure there are a lot of campuses that don’t have those things, but just because we do doesn’t mean I feel safer than if I were on a campus that doesn’t.” 

This is not an uncommon feeling among queer women on Tulane’s campus. Senior Zahra Saifudeen, who is in the process of starting a student organization for queer and transgender people of color,  commented on what makes a university friendly to queer women. 

“I feel like those are some basic things that every institution should have” Saifudeen said. “I don’t think that that makes Tulane exceptional. In fact, I feel like that makes Tulane pretty mediocre at best if that is the only reason this article is providing for Tulane being the number one university for queer women.” 

Saifudeen’s statement seems to hold true, as the majority of the queer women I know, including myself, are not affiliated with and do not utilize the university’s resources for queer people for one reason or another. 

Robertson echoed this sentiment, saying, “I think people on campus create those things for themselves because that’s where they will feel comfortable when they’re in charge of that dialogue … If I needed a safe space, I don’t know where I would go.” 

In trying to think of all of the “safe spaces” for queer women on campus, I mentioned that resident advisors used to be required to put an “LGBTQ+ Ally” sticker on their door. “I remember my freshman year seeing that ally [sticker] on my RA’s door and also on some professors’ doors of classrooms,” Roberston reflected. 

“I see it in so many places on campus, it’s kind of just like … I can picture Mike Fitts holding out a roll of these stickers being like, ‘Hey, do you want one?’ Like I don’t know what that actually means. I don’t know if that person is trained or wants to be a resource for queer people.”

Which queer women benefit from this university’s resources? For a university that claims to support all identities, there seems to be a gap in the services offered and who is benefitting from them. 

Saifudeen went even further and delineated a difference between the experiences of queer white women and queer women of color at Tulane. 

“I would say the experiences of white women are definitely one that makes life on Tulane’s campus significantly easier … as opposed to the experience of women of color. Especially because Tulane is a predominantly white institution, anyone who is white really benefits from that. Even in those queer spaces,” she said, pausing to gather her thoughts.

“Almost especially in those queer spaces, because I think that whiteness and white expectations dictate every single space on this campus. So even in the queer spaces that all queer people are supposed to find comfort in, it’s still very white-dominated space, so you have a whole sect of queer women of color and non-binary or trans people of color who don’t have a space … that can be held for them, or centers that experience.” 

Claiming that Tulane is one of the “best colleges for queer women” when queer women at this institution are harassed, marginalized in their own spaces and generally uncomfortable being visible on campus is a well-intentioned, but severely misguided statement. 

Having also experienced the stares and hollers from Tulane students when engaging with a significant other in public spaces on and around campus, I know that I am one of many women who understands that even though the university tries to provide resources for queer people, the experiences of students on this campus are primarily determined by our peers. 

Until the university fosters a no-tolerance-for-discrimination culture, queer women will continue to be oppressed. Until I can have this same conversation with queer white women, queer women of color and queer trans and nonbinary people on Tulane’s campus and receive nothing but positive remarks about their queer experiences at this institution, Tulane will continue to be one of the thousands of universities in this country that prioritizes heterosexuality and only scratches the surface of eliminating the most pressing issues for its queer students.